Emotional Wellness and IBD

Emotional Wellness and IBD

Although emotional issues may occur before a flare-up of Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, there is no evidence to show that stress, anxiety, or tension is responsible for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). No single personality type is more prone to develop psychological or emotional issues than others, and no one "brings on" the disease by poor emotional control. However, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can impact both physical and emotional well-being as well as self-esteem. As a result, individuals may have emotional responses that include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Denial of chronic disease
  • Need for dependence, or dependent behaviors
  • Feeling stressed or overwhelmed
  • Poor self-image

These reactions constitute a response to the disease and not its cause. They may occur at the time of diagnosis, or at any other time during an individual’s life.

When these emotional responses interfere with daily functioning, it is important for the patient to work on ways to improve his or her psychological response. Avoiding all stress or negative emotions is impossible, and since high emotions or emotional situations may occur right before a flare, it is important for you to find ways to manage them. Stress reduction techniques can help you to stay calm and maintain perspective. There are numerous strategies and techniques for stress and emotional management, and no one method has been proven to be more effective than another for everyone. Each person needs to find their own healthy balance. Try an approach that appeals to you. If that doesn’t work, try another. Here are some stress and emotional management techniques that may be beneficial:

  • Relaxation and breathing exercises
  • Practicing yoga or tai chi
  • Light aerobic exercise (walking, swimming etc.)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy with a psychologist or social worker
  • Meditation or hypnotherapy
  • Books, recordings, guided imagery, journaling, etc.
  • Attending support groups in your local chapter
  • Continuing to pursue hobbies and other activities you enjoyed before diagnosis
  • Creating a support network of friends, family, and health care professionals
  • Medication to address your emotional and mental state

Coping techniques for dealing with the disease itself may take many forms depending on the individual’s situation. For example, episodes of diarrhea or abdominal pain may make you fearful of being in public places. But completely avoiding activities outside the home isn’t necessary. All it takes is some planning ahead of time to improve your coping. For example, you might want to consider some of the following:

  • Be aware of bathroom locations close to your destination
  • Carry extra underwear, toilet paper, or moist wipes

Overall, it is important for an individual to understand that they did not cause their disease, and to attempt to approach their new life without guilt or self-blame. It is also important to remember that family, friends, and loved ones may also be suffering emotionally as a result of your diagnosis. These individuals may also benefit from some of the stress management techniques listed above.

For more information on emotional wellness, please see the following helpful links:

Managing Flares Brochure

CAM Factsheet

For further information, call Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.

About this resource

Published: October 22, 2012

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